Horne, Gaebler spar over $30K retreat | TheUnion.com

Horne, Gaebler spar over $30K retreat

Is $30,000 too much to spend on a planning retreat for Nevada County’s department heads?

Given the state’s current economic situation and a looming $12.4 billion budget deficit, Supervisor Sue Horne says emphatically, “Yes.”

“At a time when the state’s facing a huge deficit – and we’re going to be feeling those effects – it’s not the time to spend $30,000 for a three-day, two-night retreat,” Horne said. “I think it’s outrageous to spend $30,000 for a three-day retreat, period.”

About 30 of the county’s department heads will attend the Feb. 6-8 planning and training retreat at the Forest House Hotel in Foresthill, Placer County, said Ted Gaebler, the county’s executive officer.

How can you efficiently run a corporation with a $125 million budget without taking a few days off in the year to do some planning and coordinating between departments? Gaebler asked.

“The citizens of this county would be mad if we didn’t take time to get our act together and coordinate,” Gaebler said. “People always criticize government for not knowing what its left hand is doing from the right.”

Horne said she doesn’t object to a little planning and coordination between department heads to improve the delivery of county services.

“But how much should we spend on functions like this, and how much is OK, and how much is too much?” she asked.

Horne said she knew there was a department head retreat in the works, but became concerned when she found out Tuesday where it is being held and how much it is going to cost.

“We’re suppose to be supporting businesses in our own county,” Horne said.

“She’s challenging retroactively something that she and the other board members authorized,” Gaebler said. “The board has been approving these retreats for years and she voted for it.”

“Yes, I OK’d the budget, but I never signed on to a $30,000 retreat,” Horne retorted.

“So what if it is $30,000?” Gaebler countered. “It’s one-hundredth of 1 percent of our budget. It’s a tiny cost.”

Department heads contacted by The Union Thursday were reluctant to discuss the retreat and the dispute between Horne and Gaebler.

County Treasurer-Tax Collector E. Christina Dabis, however, was quick to jump into the fray and side with Horne.

“I don’t care if it is one-hundredth of 1 percent of the county’s total revenues,” Dabis said. “It’s still money that had to come out of taxpayers’ pockets.”

Dabis said the state’s Legislative Analyst’s office forecast a 12 percent drop in state revenues Thursday for the 2001-02 fiscal year.

“So it looks like there will be less money coming to the county because of the state’s shortfall,” Dabis said. “I have to question spending anything at this time that’s not absolutely necessary.”

Like Horne, Dabis said she didn’t object to department heads getting together and comparing processes to avoid duplications of efforts.

“But I question going out of county and spending $30,000 to do it,” Dabis said. “That coordination happens naturally if you let it.

“Why can’t they have two or three sessions at the Elks Lodge and keep the money in the county?” Dabis asked.

In the spirit of the Super Bowl, you wouldn’t send a team out onto the field without training, said Supervisor Peter Van Zant.

“We told Ted to build a team and give them training and make sure the work plans of the department heads reflect the goals and objectives of the Board of Supervisors,” Van Zant said. “That’s what the retreats are for – training, team building and strategic planning.”

That team, Van Zant said, saved taxpayers $5.5 million last year.

“We put $3 million in reserves, and saved $1.9 million by refinancing the certificates of participation debt for county facilities, and about a half million by amicably settling two lawsuits with the town of Truckee,” Van Zant said. “In a private business they’d be giving bonuses for that.”

Considering the benefits, Van Zant said, he didn’t see the retreat as a waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.

“You have to invest to get a return, and that’s on the public or private side,” Van Zant said. “I’ll invest $30,000 to get back $5 million any day.”

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